As if Covid was not enough to scare the pants off of us there is now a very nasty flesh-eating bacteria named Vibrio Vulnificus to be aware of. The most important thing you need to know is that it is easy to contract and very difficult to alleviate. Let’s see what the CDC, Cleveland Clinic, and the Florida Department of Health have to say.
There are a couple of ways you can contract these bacteria. One is from raw or undercooked seafood and the other is from saltwater or brackish water entering via a scrape or cut. Nearshore flood waters are also prone to these bacteria.
That said you can prevent raw and undercooked seafood contamination by simply cooking your seafood thoroughly. However, it is not so easy to overcome the latter.
Vibrio vulnificus can be a life-threatening infection that requires lengthy hospital stays, intensive wound care, extensive use of various antibiotics, and even amputations. According to the CDC 1 in 5 die from this infection! And oftentimes a day or so after getting sick. That is fast!
The onset of this infection is incredibly rapid. Symptoms worsen fast. The first few symptoms, and they might easily get overlooked, include; fever and chills, painful blisters or ulcers, leaking fluids, and swelling near the wound, skin discoloration, decreasing blood pressure, dizziness, stomach pain, mental confusion, faint heart rate, and vomiting. Getting medical attention quickly is the key to possibly living to see another day. Seriously!
These bacteria begin with sepsis or septicemia and progress into shock. It can destroy injured and fresh tissue leading to amputations of limbs or shut down other organs leading to less oxygen getting to the brain and lungs. Lung and brain damage are possible as this bacteria moves slowly throughout the bloodstream. Be aware that Cholera is also a form of this bacteria. People with extra risk or increased complications are those with liver disease, hemochromatosis, diabetes, kidney failure or kidney issues, cancer, HIV, and other diseases that compromise their immune systems.
According to the Florida Department of Health, vibrio vulnificus requires warm salty water to grow. Therefore, it is extremely important that anyone with even the slightest wound or scrape not enter the ocean, river, or any other brackish water. This warning also includes those with fresh tattoos, piercings, or surgery.
Lee County Florida seems to lead the charge with the number of people who have contracted these bacteria and those who have died from it. All in the wake of Hurricane Ian last year. But there are cases throughout this state (Florida) and elsewhere. They are on the rise, especially in the aftermath of hurricanes or tropical storms.
Two days ago (August 22, 2023) Fox News 35 in Orlando ran a segment on the vibrio vulnificus bacteria. According to their tallies, there have been five deaths this year and twenty-seven documented cases in Florida alone. (Hillsborough County 4; Escambia County 4; Lee County 3; Sarasota County 2; Brevard County 1; Seminole County 1; Alachua County 1; Bay County 1; Broward County 1; Charlotte County 1; Collier County 1; Gasden County 1; Hernando County 1; Leon County 1; Okaloosa County 1; Pasco County 1; Polk County 1; Washington County 1) They are, rightfully, warning people to steer clear of the beaches if they want to remain bacteria free.
CNN reported that last year (October 2022) Florida reported 64 cases of vibrio vulnificus and 13 deaths with 6 occurring in Lee County. In the prior year (2021), there were thirty-four cases in Florida and ten deaths.
Florida is not the only state with this sad bacterial infection causing anxiety and fear. According to CBS News and USA Today, there have been three deaths attributed to vibrio vulnificus on Long Island. Connecticut has had five cases of this bacteria. Three of the five have died this past July. All were between the ages of 60 and 80. North Carolina had three deaths from vibrio vulnificus in July of this year also.
With coastal waters warming this scenario could be very bad fast. All people and communities near the water need to take proper precautions to prevent infection from vibrio vulnificus from spreading and killing our citizenry.
Treatments include draining and debriding the affected area(s), applying a topical antibiotic and skin protectant, IV drips with antibiotics targeted at this difficult-to-combat bacteria, oxygen, careful medical oversight, and occasionally amputation to stifle the progression.
The key to surviving, and this is not an absolute, is to seek medical help asap!